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What's First and Foremost



He’ll never forget, he said, first and foremost, the batter.
Cake batter from a bowl overturned, hurled it seemed, forceful enough
To splatter the ceiling, the ceiling fan, small gobs of cake patiently
Dripping to the linoleum floor, which Stanley stepped in without care
As he collected images, details, torn curtains for his initial report.
He and Stanley, just two cops another July night on the beat,

Though a night he can’t forget, even here in this office. The beat
Of the doctor’s clock keeps tabs on the hour.  Assault and battery
appeared neatly in italics on Stanley’s report,
But the words felt false to him, couldn’t possibly signify enough.
Not the chair split in two, the piece of fingernail found by spoons uncare-
Fully strewn beneath a sagging drawer.  And the doctor, patiently,

Listening to words tumbling out of him like moviegoers impatient
To escape fire.  He thought that by himself, he could have this thing beat,
He’d stop the nightmares, the night sweats – no need for medical care -
Ignoring insults and nudges in the coffee room, the banter & battery
Of cops, until the captain, surly with morning, said enough is enough
And threw him a slip with the doctor’s name in scrawl.  A report

Signing him off as sane was on the line, and yet here he was, reporting
Images of spoons & cake, fingernails & curtains, like any patient
Drooling in a gown calling for Jesus.  The doctor was kind enough,
Said as soon as possible he’d be back on the beat,
That for having been in treatment he’d be bigger and badder.  
Little could the doctor tell it wasn’t the beat he wanted back.  He didn’t care

To return to the humid hollow walks with Stanley, who didn’t care
To discuss much beyond football and hookers.  Whose report
Of the incident failed entirely to mention linoleum splatted cake batter.
He just didn’t have the will, the drive, the patience
To do an extra walk around the block to wait for Stanley to beat
Off before the digital numbers said shift was up, they’d worked enough.

Neither did he feel that, here in this office, he could muster up enough
Of whatever it is, whatever it is you need to tell your care
Giver that the woman he never saw, who owned the arm that beat
Together the eggs & flour, that Stanley’s sloppy report –
These were not his demons.  That among his virtues neither was patience,
Nor temperance, nor the will to lay down his sword, to avoid assault or battery.

How often he’d gazed at his imperfect wife, floor slumped & beaten, his rage enough
He knew to smack cake, spoon and batter out of her hand, and yet not care enough
to stop the doctor who, with ballpoint pen, signed the report, clock ticking, legs crossed, patiently.

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